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Despite rough history in event, Indiana has a massive chance to bolster resume at Big Ten Tournament

The regular season has concluded and now the real fun begins for Indiana men’s basketball.

Jerome Hunter is defended by Wisconsin’s Aleem Ford on Saturday at Assembly Hall. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

An up-and-down, 19-12 regular season with a 9-11 Big Ten record has put Indiana in a state of uncertainty heading into the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis this week.

The ultimate goal of landing their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016 is very much in play, but it might take a win or two in the conference tournament to make Indiana feel safe come Selection Sunday. 

Indiana could in theory win the Big Ten Tournament to automatically secure a bid to the big dance, but that would be awfully difficult considering Indiana’s long road in the conference tourney and IU’s troubled history in the event.

Indiana has never won the Big Ten Tournament in its existence, with only one runner-up appearance in 2001. In recent years, the conference tournament has been a massive struggle for IU, going 2-6 in the event since 2014. Additionally, Indiana is 0-2 in the tournament in the Archie Miller era, losing in the first game in the previous two years.

Ice-cold Cornhuskers

The Hoosiers’ 9-11 conference record this season has pinned Indiana as the No. 11 seed in the tournament which means needing a total of five wins in order to win the conference tournament. Indiana receives no bye and will open play on Wednesday night against last seeded, No. 14 Nebraska.

While not having a bye is not ideal for Indiana, playing Nebraska is the ideal opponent. Indiana has already beaten the Cornhuskers twice this season and Nebraska’s season has been a disaster as a whole.

Nebraska finished the regular season with a 7-24 record overall and a 2-18 conference record. The Cornhuskers finished the season on a 16-game losing streak as well.

To make matters worse, two of Nebraska’s best players and guards, sophomore Cam Mack and junior Dachon Burke, are currently suspended indefinitely. Not having the Cornhuskers’ second and third-leading scorers available makes for an even more depleted rotation.

On Sunday in Nebraska’s regular season finale they played without Burke and Mack and only a seven-man rotation and got destroyed at Minnesota, losing 107-75.

With the massive pressure Indiana has to win this game for its NCAA Tournament hopes and how bad Nebraska has been as of late, a loss in this game could really hurt Indiana heading into Selection Sunday.

What could happen next

Should Indiana win, it will face off with No. 6 seed Penn State, with whom Indiana split the season series, losing on the road at Penn State 64-49 on Jan. 29 and winning at home on Feb. 23, 68-60.

Penn State had its best season in years with a 21-10 record, but ended the regular season on a low note, losing the last three. Should Indiana play Penn State, it will most definitely be a gritty fight with Indiana trying to secure an NCAA Tournament bid and Penn State hoping to alleviate its recent slide and improve its tournament seeding.

If Indiana beats Penn State, it’ll face off with the Big Ten’s No. 3 seed Maryland who is also ranked No. 12 in the nation. Maryland got the best of Indiana twice this year. The Terrapins beat Indiana badly when hosting the Hoosiers, winning 75-59 on Jan. 4. When the two teams met in Bloomington, Indiana had control of the game until the very end when Maryland made a furious comeback in the last few minutes to steal the game in a 77-76 win.

Maryland finished the season to a bit of an inconsistent tone, only winning two of its last five games. The star power in senior guard Anthony Cowan and sophomore center Jalen Smith along with the Terrapins’ depth makes them an overwhelming challenge regardless of recent play though.

Should Indiana win its first three games of the conference tournament, it would be in the semi-finals and the question of opponent from that round and in the championship remains to be determined.

Taking stock of where IU’s at

Here is the whole Big Ten Tournament bracket:

In summary, with Indiana’s competitive, yet unsuccessful ending stretch of the season that saw the team lose three of its last four, the Hoosiers have work to do in Indianapolis.

Even though all bracketology is speculation, about every bracketology source currently projects Indiana as in the field of 68. Bracket Matrix, which averages out different bracketology sources, currently has Indiana as a No. 10 seed and cleanly in the field of 68, meaning it would avoid First Four play in Dayton.

Regardless of where Indiana stands now, a win — or better-stated, avoiding a terrible loss to Nebraska — is the current priority in order to make Indiana feel safer come Sunday. Any win past that in the conference tournament would be additional insurance.

Despite Indiana’s conference tournament woes, it should be noted that in the Archie Miller era at IU, the team is 3-0 in games in at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, winning each of their appearances in the Crossroads Classic. 

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee will decide Indiana’s fate come Selection Sunday, but the Hoosiers can very much control their own destiny with their Big Ten Tournament performance.

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